is currently the most popular and well-known theory of mind. This
is mostly due to the influence of computers on modern society -
both in scientific terms and in the popular imagination through
films, books, etc. As a result, most people presented with the functionalist
perspective - though they would probably not know it by that term
- would find it common sense.
what exactly is the functionalist perspective? Functionalism tries
to move beyond both Behaviourism and Identity Theory by taking elements
from both. Like those two theories, Functionalism is generally taken
to be a materialist theory. However, it differs from the other two
theories in the following ways:
Brain states are not mental states. Identity Theory supposes that
brain states are identical to mental states. However, there are
problems with this. If I say, "I am in pain" it is not
the same as saying, "The C-fibres in my brain are firing".
But, if mental states and brain states are identical, shouldn't
these two statements mean the same thing? If not, and certain
types of neurological process cannot be matched up with certain
types of mental state, then something over and above simple physical
processes must be taking place.
Behaviourism cannot account for mental states. Behaviourism attempts
to account for the mind in terms of actual or possibly observable
behaviour. However, the problem with this view is that:
Different behaviours can result from the same stimulus. Imagine
that you hear the doorbell - how do you react? Perhaps you run
to answer it because you are expecting an important visitor;
perhaps you ignore it; etc. In other words, there is no one
response that can be linked to the same stimulus. So, if this
is the case, what causes us to behave differently? The non-behaviourist
would answer that it is our beliefs. However, this is a problem
for the behaviourist in that it presupposes something that cannot
be explained simply in terms of actual or possible behaviour.
Different stimuli can produce the same response. As with the
previous example, it is also difficult to say that there is
a definite relationship between a certain type of stimulus and
a certain response. For example, someone might laugh at someone
falling over, seeing a photograph or from hearing a story -
whilst someone else might not laugh at any of those things.
In other words, there is no certain, one-to-one relationship
between a stimulus and a response. If this is so, must we again
say that beliefs are responsible for this?